It’s been a while since I wrote comments, those narrative reports each student receives as a part of a report card in schools where such things are possible. I’m not talking about a “here’s-the-number-now-find-the-corresponding-adjective” comment, but a real life, 3-4 sentence description on how the student actually performed.
For those who write comments, it’s a big deal. They have to be in on a deadline, of course, but there is real agony over the right way to phrase things. Diplomacy is the name of the game. Who knows how long that family might keep your words? “Little Johnny is a complete screw up who can’t keep his hands to himself” might turn into “In the upcoming marking period, we’ll work with John to help him turn his energy into productive endeavors.” Or “Johnny’s social nature sometimes makes it difficult for him and others to concentrate on the task at hand.” When you are writing about 60 kids, individualizing them on paper can be tough when you’re trying to sit down and write them all at once. Writing the comments over time, a useful strategy in theory, generally doesn’t happen because of a couple of things. 1) You have to finish grading the actual papers and tests and projects before you can do the grades, which will impact what the comment says and 2) You are often “given” a day in which to write said comments, meaning no students and (theoretically) no other responsibilities.
This time, yesterday, when I sat down to write comments for my five students, I was able to relax and really enjoy the process. Yes, I have five kids. Yes, I teach cooking. Which means no homework. No tests or papers or “assessments” that need assessing before I could write the words. Yes, I am fortunate.
What I realized as I wrote, though, was how cool these kids are. I could relive special moments for each of them, be specifically anecdotal about my experiences with them in the kitchen. I could hear their voices, their laughter, as I sat at my computer typing out the words. What a great experience.
And last night I received a gift from a friend, though she may not know it as such. Maddie, our 13 year old, is applying to a special program at the local high school for next year, and she has to ask for letters of recommendation. She chose to ask Wendy for a rec. Wendy not only said yes, but delivered a beautiful piece in a short amount of time – and even sent me a copy. In it I can see Maddie through her eyes, with specific anecdotes shared. It’s as if Wendy wrote a (long) comment for Maddie’s report card on life. And it’s a keeper.
Between my comment writing and Wendy’s recommendation, there was a lot of time involved. Time to focus on each kid individually, in words that they will read. It made me very aware of the power of all of it. The time, the focus, the words. And especially the kid.
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